Same-Sex Marriage Bill Strikes a Good Balance
Thursday, 16th February 2017 at 3:38 pm
A consensus Parliamentary report into the federal government’s same-sex marriage bill strikes a good balance between freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination, according to The Law Council of Australia.
The Select Committee report on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, released Thursday, reached agreement on key issues.
- ministers of religion should be able to refuse to marry same-sex couples
- removal of “conscientious objection” provisions
- creating a new category of independent religious celebrants to cater for those people with religious beliefs, but requiring all other celebrants to marry same-sex couples
- strictly confining the exemptions available to “religious bodies” to discriminate against same-sex couples.
Law Council of Australia president Fiona McLeod said the areas of agreement would, if implemented, improve the bill significantly and called on Parliament to progress the report’s findings.
“The Law Council has been a long-standing supporter of same-sex marriage, however, changes to the Marriage Act need to carefully balance freedom of religion with the freedom from discrimination,” McLeod said.
“We are pleased to see that the committee suggests that ministers of religion, and certain religious celebrants, should be able to refuse to marry same-sex couples in line with their beliefs. Civil celebrants on the other hand are performing a secular function and so have no other proper basis for exemption.
“We are also happy that the committee agrees with the Law Council that ‘religious bodies’ that were not specifically established for religious purposes, should not be exempt from anti-discrimination laws.
“We further note that the committee did not recommend exempting individuals or commercial businesses from anti-discrimination law who hold a ‘conscientious’ objection to providing goods and services for same-sex weddings.
“Striking this balance between freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination is a challenging task. It is the Law Council’s view that the committee’s suggestions achieve this balance well and should therefore be accepted by Parliament,” McLeod said.
The Exposure Draft was released by the Attorney-General for consultation alongside the proposed legislation for a same-sex marriage plebiscite.
In releasing the latest report, the committee said the inquiry provided an opportunity to consider the evidence “in a more collegiate and coordinated manner and to identify where there may be areas of agreement, and to better understand and narrow those areas where there are differences of approach”.
“Despite this, the associated Exposure Draft released… as part of the preparatory work for a proposed plebiscite, was deemed to be a useful vehicle to seek consensus on agreed elements of the proposal, and to better identify the substantive issues that remain contested as a result of people’s varying political or philosophical perspectives,” the parliamentary report said.
“It is the hope and intention of the committee that this body of evidence will prove a valuable and instructive foundation, identifying the scope of issues to be addressed by a parliament considering legislative changes to the definition of marriage in this area.”
Senator Penny Wong, the leader of the opposition in the senate, congratulated the multi-partisan committee, led by Liberal Senator David Fawcett,on they way they had approached the task and said the report represented “a significant and important moment in this debate”.
“This committee, made up of members of parties from all corners of this parliament has reached an historic agreement on how we can move forward and achieve marriage equality,” Wong said.
“And we ought to pause to consider the enormity of that achievement.
“A debate so often mired in partisanship, mired in acrimony, a debate characterised by finger pointing, we have a spirit of cooperation and the agreement around this report.
“The parliament should follow the example of the Fawcett committee.”